Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

In Alfred Hitchcock's most suspenseful thrillers (and his personal favorite), based on a script by Thornton Wilder:

  • the opening sequence identified the chilling, twisted, devious homicidal character of Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) - the "Merry Widow Murderer" - evil personified from the very first scenes, as he fled from Philadelphia, after committing a third murder of a rich widow; he suspected that his apprehension by police was imminent, and schemed to drop out of sight by visiting his adoring, middle-class relatives, including his unsuspecting, spinsterish older sister Mrs. Joseph (Emma) Newton (Patricia Collinge) in California
  • Uncle Charles' train arrived in the clean, quiet, small and bright town of Santa Rosa, California, as black funereal smoke belched into the sky and a dark, tarnishing shadow was cast over everything to symbolize his ominous arrival
  • there were instances of telepathic twin-ness similarities and affinities between the congenial and suave Uncle Charlie and his symbiotic namesake - his young favorite niece "Charlie" (Charlotte) Newton (Teresa Wright) who was named for the uncle she idolized: ("I can't explain it but you came here and Mother's so happy and I'm glad that she named me after you and that she thinks we're both alike. I think we are too. I know it... we're sorta like twins, don't you see?"); a cat-and-mouse game developed between the two, that turned out to reveal that they were diametrically-opposed opposites
  • at first, young Charlie was fascinated by her uncle's wit, urbane and worldly sophistication - but then a "shadow of a doubt" slowly began to emerge; the first suspicions about Uncle Charlie arose when he refused to take a national poll survey and have his photograph taken by interviewer Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and photographer Fred Saunders (Wallace Ford); it was later revealed to young Charlie that both Graham and Saunders were police detectives investigating Uncle Charlie as a murder suspect
  • Charlie rushed to the town's library just before it closed at nine pm, to see the contents of an article that Uncle Charlie had suspiciously cut out of her father's newspaper; in the reading room, she reacted dramatically -- her eyes widened as she found damning evidence that her Uncle was the "Merry Widow Murderer -- Strangler of Three Rich Women" - and that he was the object of a nationwide search; she also put two-and-two together - the initials engraved on the back of an emerald ring given as a gift to her by Uncle Charlie matched the initials of the murderer's third victim - it was the film's major turning point - emphasized by the camera's overhead shot isolating her at a distance from behind - among the dark shadows
The Town Library Sequence - Young Charlie's Discovery of Her Uncle's True Identity
  • in a key dinner table speech (staged as practice for a speech he was promised to give to the town's womens' club), a contemptuous, misogynistic monologue was delivered by Uncle Charlie - about his hatred for rich, lazily fat, detestable, middle-aged widows; he was viewed in profile for most of the speech, as the camera moved even closer: "...Women keep busy in towns like this. In the cities it's different. The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. Then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women"
  • young Charlie objected to the degrading characterization: "They're alive! They're human beings!"; Uncle Charlie turned toward the camera, in gigantic close-up and coldly asked: "Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human or are they fat wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"
  • in the nearby 'Til-Two cocktail lounge - a smoke-filled, noisy and dark bar populated by war-time sailors and less-than-respectable, downtrodden ladies both inside and out, the two Charlies sat at one of the booths for an ominous discussion; they faced each other as Uncle Charlie began to act aggressively toward his niece: "...Now look, Charlie, Something's come between us. I don't want that to happen. Why, we're old friends. More than that. We're like twins. You said so yourself...."
  • and then he began lecturing her, accused her of knowing nothing about the real world, and confronted her about what she knew about him: "You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl that knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares! Or did I, or was it a silly inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie! Use your wits. Learn something"
  • as she approached closer to him and learned the truth, she realized that he was aware of her knowledge and suspicions; she had to decide whether she should reveal her findings to the authorities or protect her family; after her confrontation in the seedy bar with her uncle, she reluctantly agreed to not say anything if he promised to leave town soon, to avoid any scandal and to protect her mother from knowing that her younger brother was a murderer
  • there were two failed 'murder' attempts to kill young Charlie - a tampered-with broken step on the back stairs, and a malfunctioning garage door paired with carbon monoxide poisoning
  • an intense tracking shot, from Uncle Charlie's POV, was seen as young Charlie glided down the stair railing, with the incriminating, offensive, condemning object (the emerald ring) framed in a gigantic closeup on her right hand
  • the film was enriched by the running dialogue between two mystery buffs who read pulp mystery stories: Charlie's father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his brother-in-law Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn in his film debut), who often debated about the best techniques to commit the 'perfect murder'
  • in the exciting conclusion as Uncle Charlie was departing on the train for San Francisco (on the same train as widowed Mrs. Potter (Frances Carson), his next victim), he struggled between train-cars with young Charlie, restraining her and announcing his homicidal intentions: "I've got to do this, Charlie, so long as you know what you do about me"; when he tightly grabbed her and awaited the train to pick up speed: ("Not yet, Charlie, let it get a little faster! Just a little faster! Faster! Now!"), she reversed positions with him, upset his balance and pushed him away - he fell headlong into the path of an oncoming, speeding train on an adjacent track; the image dissolved to the recurrent one of dancing couples twirling to the Merry Widow Waltz

Uncle Charlie: The "Merry Widow Murderer"

Young Charlie (Teresa Wright) Greeting her Uncle Charlie in Santa Rosa, CA

Uncle Charlie's Gift of an Incriminating Emerald Ring to Young Charlie

Close-up of Uncle Charlie Viewed in Profile During His Hateful Dinner Table Speech

Ominous Discussion Between Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie in a Bar Booth

Uncle Charlie Promised to Leave Town

Tracking Shot of The Incriminating Emerald Ring on Young Charlie's Finger

Uncle Charlie's Failed Murder Attempt of Young Charlie on Train


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